Accessibility links

Newsline - April 5, 2000




FINANCIAL PRESSURE INCREASES ON MEDIA-MOST

Gazprom has demanded that Vladimir Gusinskii's Media- Most holding group pay debts totaling $211.6 million, according to Russian media on 4 April. "Kommersant- Daily" reported that on 14 March Gazprom sent Media- Most a formal letter--the type that usually precedes court action--demanding that the money be repaid. However, the press spokesman for Gazprom said his company is not currently considering any legal moves. A Media-Most press spokesman accused the Kremlin of trying to pressure Gazprom and "drive a wedge between" Media- Most and Gazprom. Last month, Media-Most First Deputy Chairman Igor Malashenko said that the Kremlin is pressuring Gazprom to interfere in the company's editorial policies, while "Segodnya," a Media-Most publication, printed a story accusing deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov of starting "a campaign to prepare the public for the crushing of the independent media, starting with Media-Most." JAC

ANOTHER GOVERNOR FINDS NEW WAY TO FIDDLE WITH ELECTION DATE?

"Izvestiya" reported on 5 April that new gubernatorial elections will likely be held in Samara in June because local law requires that they take place between 70 and 180 days after the resignation of the governor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). The newspaper speculated that Governor Titov resigned the previous day in order make sure he was elected for a second term as soon as possible rather than wait for possible administrative reforms to occur or for the Kremlin to come up with an alternative candidate to compete against him. If he had not resigned, Titov would have faced re-election in December 2000. Titov told Russian Public Television that he will think about running again and will also consider working for a private company or writing his memoirs. JAC

PUTIN WON'T BACK LOSING HORSE

President-elect Vladimir Putin has asked Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko not to run in the May gubernatorial ballot in St. Petersburg, saying he wants her to take part in talks on forming a new government. Matvienko revealed this turn of events to the press on 4 April following a meeting with Putin. Early last month, she had announced that Putin backs her bid for the governor's post. The latest VTsIOM opinion poll, however, shows that Matvienko has only 13 percent backing, compared with the 55 percent support that incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev enjoys. Yakovlev, for his part, has noted that before Matvienko's announcement of Putin's support, the now president-elect had backed Yakovlev's candidacy. And a recent article in "Segodnya" suggested that Yakovlev has reached a secret deal with businessman Boris Berezovskii under which, among other things, Berezovskii-controlled Russian Public Television would refrain from any negative coverage of Yakovlev (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 April 2000). JC

CHECHENS CLAIM TO HAVE EXECUTED NINE RUSSIAN POLICEMEN

Nine Russian Interior Ministry troops have been summarily executed after the Russian military refused to exchange them for a Russian officer charged with raping and murdering a Chechen girl, according to an announcement posted on a Chechen Internet site on 5 April, dpa and Reuters reported. The Russians had been captured on 29 March during fighting in the east Chechen village of Zhani-Vedeno (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March 2000). LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT REJECTS MOSCOW'S CONDITIONS FOR TALKS

In a statement released in Strasbourg on 4 April by former Chechen Foreign Minister Akhyad Idigiov, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii is aware that the preconditions he has repeatedly set for peace talks with the Chechen leadership are unacceptable to the latter, Interfax reported. Those conditions include releasing all hostages currently held in Chechnya. Maskhadov added that "the West's position enables Russia to continue hostilities against Chechnya." Also on 4 April, ITAR-TASS quoted Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev as telling journalists that Maskhadov's wife and family are currently in North Ossetia under the protection of local security bodies. Stroev added that North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov is in daily contact with Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). LF

RUSSIAN MUSLIM ORGANIZATION PROPOSES MODEL FOR RESOLVING CHECHEN CONFLICT

The Russian political movement Refakh has drafted a proposal for resolving the Chechen conflict, which it plans to present to President-elect Putin, Refakh leader and State Duma deputy Kurban Amirov told a press conference in Moscow on 4 April, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." The plan envisages the introduction of presidential rule in Chechnya for several years, followed by a referendum on the optimum status for Chechnya within the Russian Federation. In addition, it foresees Chechnya's being granted special economic status "as a sort of Russian Hong Kong" to encourage Western investment. LF

TWO KILLED IN DAGHESTAN BOMBING

Two people were killed and three injured on the evening of 3 April when a bomb exploded on a passenger bus travelling from Daghestan's Novo-Laak Raion to neighboring Chechnya, Interfax reported the following day. On 4 April, ITAR-TASS quoted Russian military spokesmen in the North Caucasus as saying that Chechen reconnaissance groups have been spotted in three western raions of Daghestan. Those spokesmen believe Chechen field commander Khattab plans to move his men to Daghestan and then leave Russia "using fake documents and local guides." LF

MOSCOW REJECTS NATO'S CRITICISM OF MILITARY DOCTRINE

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told Reuters on 4 April that NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark's criticism of Russia's new military doctrine was "entirely without foundation." Clark had said the document is a step in the wrong direction and should be revised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). According to Yakovenko, First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov, who reportedly helped draft the doctrine, will hold a press conference later this week to respond to Clark's comments. JC

KARAGANOV CALLS FOR MOSCOW TO REJECT 'SUPERPOWER PHANTOM'

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 4 April, Sergei Karaganov, head of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, urged Moscow to give up pursuing a foreign policy that smacks of the "superpower" policies that the Soviet Union pursued during the Cold War. Instead, he called for a foreign policy that avoids confrontation, "particularly with the countries on which global development depends," and promotes integration. With regard to the concept of a "multipolar world," to which both Russia and China have repeatedly subscribed, Karaganov commented that it is drawing Moscow into the stand-off between the United States and China. Now China is "sound economically," he said, it can "afford" the concept of a multipolar world, particularly since Russia, rather than China, has been actively promoting that concept. And he added that as far as the concept is concerned, "we are only an instrument wielded by China...and it's time we recognized it." JC

IT'S OFFICIAL

Russia's Central Election Commission released on 5 April the officials results of the 26 March presidential elections. President-elect Putin received 52.94 percent of the vote, while Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov came in second with 29.21 percent. Yabloko leader collected 5.8 percent of the vote and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, 2.95 percent. Putin's inauguration will take place on 7 May. JAC

ZYUGANOV CHARGES OUTRIGHT VOTING FRAUD IN NINE REGIONS

Communist Party leader Zyuganov repeated his charge on 4 April that voting results in the recent presidential elections were falsified. He said that serious violations of the election law occurred in 25 regions, and in nine of them the results were completely falsified. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 5 April, Zyuganov singled out the republics of Bashkortostan, Mordovia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia and Tatarstan as well as Kaliningrad and Saratov Oblasts. He claimed that in Bashkortostan, people stood by the ballot box and told voters how to vote, while in Tatarstan 3 million extra ballot papers were printed in order to boost the number of votes cast for Putin. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 4 April that no concrete complaints or statements have yet been submitted to the commission. Writing in "Novaya gazeta" (No. 12), Boris Kagarlitskii of the Institute for Comparative Politics alleged that more than 50 percent of all eligible voters did not participate in elections, compared with the official figure of some 35 percent. JAC

ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY SET FOR OVERHAUL

The board of directors of Unified Energy Systems (EES) agreed at a meeting on 4 April to restructure the energy monopoly, Interfax reported. EES Chairman Anatolii Chubais said that the new concept for restructuring has two goals: to "recreate a single energy network in which regions are linked together by electric power lines" and to create a single Russia-wide tariff system. According to "The Moscow Times" the next day, the new tariffs will inevitably be higher. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told journalists on 4 April that "EES is not as efficient as the government would like it to be both in terms of its core activity and its fulfillment of social obligations." "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 5 April that because Gazprom had reduced gas supplies to the nationwide electric power stations by three times and to regional systems by 1.7 times, EES will reduce electricity supplies by 25 percent in April. JAC

RUSSIA WINS PLACE AMONG WORLD'S MOST CORRUPT

Russia placed in the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world, according to a recent Gallup International poll, AFP reported on 4 April. The poll was conducted through interviews with senior bankers, business leaders, and government officials in each country. Russia finished on a par with Ecuador. JAC

ANOTHER BLOW FOR MICROSOFT?

Russia's military- industrial enterprises have allegedly received "secret instructions" from the Defense Ministry requiring them to use Russian software instead of systems and programs produced by Microsoft, "Vremya MN" reported on 4 April. According to the daily, the order is intended to guarantee information security. The next day, "The Moscow Times" reported that draft legislation regulating the Internet has been leaked from the State Duma. According to the daily, the draft is very rough and would likely require significant revision before it could be considered. Among its provisions are a ban on spam or junk e-mail, granting the government the right to register domain names, and substituting invented Russian words for foreign terms such as Internet (interset) and computer (eletronnovychislitelnaya mashina). JAC




KARABAKH PROSECUTOR SAYS FORMER MINISTER PLANNED ATTACK ON PRESIDENT

Mavrik Ghukasian, prosecutor-general of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, told a news conference in Stepanakert on 4 April that the enclave's former defense minister, Samvel Babayan, has been formally charged with masterminding the 22 March assassination attempt on President Arkadii Ghukasian, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Mavrik Ghukasian said that the charges were read to Babayan in the presence of his lawyer after the former minister had admitted his guilt. He added that there is "sufficient evidence" that Babayan planned to install an interim military government after the president's demise and then assume the leadership. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY CONDEMNS 'PERSECUTION' OF EX-MINISTER

The Armenian Pan- National Movement issued a statement on 4 April condemning the Yerevan district court ruling of the previous day empowering the country's prosecutor- general to ask the parliament to allow the detention of parliamentary deputy and former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). The statement characterized the measures against Siradeghian as "persecution" and a manifestation of the "wave of terror" sweeping the country. It said the court ruling demonstrates that the Armenian judiciary is not independent of the executive. Also on 4 April, parliamentary deputy speaker Gagik Aslanian said he thinks it unlikely that Siradeghian has fled the country to avoid being taken into custody, according to Armenpress cited by Groong. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN NAVAL COMMANDER SENTENCED

A Tbilisi district court on 4 April handed down a two-year prison sentence to Naval Captain Otar Chkhartishvili, former commander of the Georgian navy, for abuse of office and misappropriating 78,000 lari ($40,000), Caucasus Press reported. The prosecution had demanded a 12-year jail term. Chkhartishvili refused to testify during his trial, which lasted over a year. He had been fired by Defense Minister David Tevzadze in spring 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 1998). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER ANTICIPATES RISE IN GDP

Addressing a cabinet session in Astana on 4 April, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said that GDP growth during the first quarter of 2000 is likely to exceed 8 percent, compared with the previous year, Interfax reported. He said industrial output for the first quarter of the year increased by 14.5 percent, compared with the first three months of 1999. Toqaev also noted a marked improvement in tax collection. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 April, Toqaev's first deputy, Aleksandr Pavlov, noted that Kazakhstan has finally overcome the after-effects of the 1998 Russian economic crisis, and he predicted a stage of "steady growth." LF

COMPROMISED KAZAKH SECURITY OFFICIAL MOVES TO FOREIGN MINISTRY

Prime Minister Toqaev has named Nurtai Abyqaev to the post of first deputy foreign minister, Interfax reported on 4 April. Abyqaev was dismissed in August 1999 from his post as head of the National Security Committee for his involvement in the clandestine sale to North Korea of obsolete MiG fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1999). He had previously served as head of the presidential administration and as Kazakhstan's ambassador to the U.K. LF

POLICE DISPERSE KYRGYZ PROTESTERS

Some 200 police used force to disperse participants in the ongoing picket in central Bishkek during the late evening of 4 April, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Fifteen picketers who had embarked on a hunger strike to protest the 22 March detention of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov were forcibly hospitalized. Kulov had appealed to them earlier that day to abandon their fast. On 31 March the Bishkek City administration had issued a ban on pickets and demonstrations, except on one city square at a greater distance from the government building. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS TAJIKISTAN

Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in Dushanbe on 4 April at the head of a delegation that also included the Belarusian defense, industry and finance ministers and the secretary of the country's Security Council, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka stressed the unused potential for expanding by up to 10 times bilateral trade, which declined by 40 percent last year, according to Interfax. He said Belarus is interested in importing cotton, aluminum, and tobacco from Tajikistan and exporting agricultural equipment, fertilizers and oil products. LF




BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE ENDORSES BILL ON BANKRUPTCY

The Chamber of Representatives has passed in the first reading a bill on bankruptcy, Belapan reported on 4 April. The bill lists the grounds on which debtors may be declared bankrupt, describes bankruptcy procedures, and regulates other aspects of the insolvency, reorganization, and liquidation of economic entities. The bill applies to non-state companies, cooperatives, and foundations. Meanwhile, Supreme Economic Court Deputy Chairman Viktar Kamyankou told the legislature that as of 1 February, 40 percent of state-run companies were loss-making and 46 percent are currently insolvent, of which only 14 percent have a chance to recover solvency within six months. He added that 4 percent of such companies are virtual bankrupts. JM

PACE ASKS UKRAINE TO DELAY 16 APRIL REFERENDUM...

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has asked Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to postpone the 16 April constitutional referendum until the parliament has adopted a new law on referenda, Reuters and AP reported on 4 April. PACE also warned that it will consider suspending Ukraine's membership if the referendum is conducted unconstitutionally or if referendum results are implemented unconstitutionally. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk commented in Strasbourg the same day that PACE's recommendation is "unjust and unfair." The same day the EU welcomed the Ukrainian Constitutional Court's ruling that gave the go-ahead to the referendum. "This decision is a positive development, which provides encouraging evidence of the effective functioning of Ukrainian democratic institutions," the EU said in a statement. JM

...WHILE KUCHMA SAYS REFERENDUM WILL BE HELD 'UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES'

Commenting on PACE's recommendation, the Ukrainian president said the referendum will take place on the scheduled day "under any circumstances," Interfax reported on 4 April. "If someone is regarding Ukraine as a colony, then he is mistaken," Kuchma added. The main question in the plebiscite, he commented, is the one on giving the president the right to disband the parliament if it fails to approve a budget or form a majority. Meanwhile, Central Electoral Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets reported the same day that the printing of referendum ballots has been completed. A total of 160 million have been printed, since each of the referendum's four questions has been put on a separate ballot (Ukraine has some 38 million voters). JM

UKRAINE DISMISSES RUSSIA'S CRITICISM OF CHECHEN INFORMATION CENTER

Foreign Minister spokesman Ihor Hrushko on 4 April said the ministry is surprised by Russia's "inadequate reaction" to the opening of an information center by the Free Caucasus committee in Lviv, Interfax reported. Hrushko added that the opening of the center was initiated by the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), which is a legally registered association. "Ukraine, as a legal democratic state, considers it impossible to implement any sanctions against citizens who are using their right to freely express their stance without violating national laws," Hrushko noted, adding that the center does not reflect the government's official viewpoint. ITAR-TASS on 3 April quoted an official from Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying that the inauguration of Lviv's Chechen center is an "openly unfriendly step with regard to Russia." JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES AMENDMENTS ON SCHOOL INTEGRATION

After a heated session on 4 April, the parliament voted by 38 to 29 to approve a package of amendments on the integration of schools. Under the new regulation, a secondary school with 60 percent of its curriculum in Estonian would be considered an Estonian-language school. All secondary schools must start the transition to that status by the 2007/2008 academic year, BNS reported. Parliamentary deputy Marju Lauristin said that schools will have flexibility as regards the remaining 40 percent of their curriculum. ETA added that instruction in the mother tongues of minorities will remain in force for primary education (up to grade nine) under the amendments. MH

ESTONIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON LONG-TERM VISAS FOR BORDER REGIONS

Negotiators from Estonia and Russia, meeting on 4 April in Haapsalu, agreed on restructuring the visa regime for residents of border regions. At Estonia's request, the current practice of simplified border crossings for all border area residents has been terminated so that Tallinn can adhere to EU integration measures. Currently the simplified crossing procedures apply to about 19,300 residents. The two sides agreed to issue long- term multiple-entry visas for those who have close family and property across the border and/or attend religious services in the other country, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. In addition, both sides pledged to offer 4,000 of the visas free of charge. The abolition of simplified border crossings had worried, above all, the small Setu minority, whose settlement was severed in half under the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact. MH

POLISH LEADERS SLAM SECRET SERVICE FOR INTERNET REPORT

Aleksander Kwasniewski and Jerzy Buzek on 4 April criticized Poland's State Protection Office (UOP) for publishing on its official Website a report listing major threats to the country's security, Polish media reported. Both Kwasniewski and Buzek said the report should remain confidential. In particular, the report says the major threats to Poland are Russia's continued spying operations and instability in post-Soviet countries. It also suggests that the Lithuanian government is conducting a policy of assimilation of ethnic Poles in Lithuania. "Gazeta Wyborcza" commented the same day that the report contradicts the official line of the Foreign Ministry, which is seeking to improve Polish-Russian ties. A UOP spokeswoman said the report appeared online as the result of a "misunderstanding," but she did not elaborate. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER ARRESTED, RELEASED

Andrzej Lepper, leader of the Radical farmers' union Self-Defense, was arrested at a Polish-Czech border checkpoint on 4 April under an arrest warrant issued by a court in Lodz last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000). However, the Lodz court the same day revoked its warrant and Lepper was released. "This action [to arrest] me has greatly discredited the judicial system," PAP quoted Lepper as saying. Lepper has been charged with slandering government officials and last week failed for the second time to appear in the court. A fierce opponent of Poland's bid for EU entry, Lepper has announced he will run in this year's presidential elections. JM

CZECH LEGISLATURE PASSES BILL ON BUSHEHR CONTRACT AGAIN

The Chamber of Deputies has once again passed a bill on banning exports to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, Czech media reported on 4 April. The chamber rejected a Senate amendment to the bill calling for the state to compensate any companies that had contracts to supply Bushehr before 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2000). VG

CZECH PRESIDENT NAMES NEW INTERIOR MINISTER

Vaclav Havel on 4 April accepted outgoing Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich's resignation and named Stanislav Gross to replace him, Czech media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000). Earlier, Gross had resigned as deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies and as head of the Czech Social Democratic Party's group of deputies in the parliament. CSSD deputy chairman Zdenek Skromach will replace Gross in the latter post, while Gross is expected to assume Skromach's position in the party leadership. The exchange appears to have been concocted in order to enable Gross to hold on to his political influence within the governing party. VG

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER RECALLS FICO FROM EUROPEAN COURT

Eduard Kukan on 4 April decided to recall Robert Fico from his position as Slovakia's representative on the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission for Human Rights, TASR reported. Kukan, who was acting on a recommendation from Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, said Fico was recalled because he recently became the leader of the Smer political party. "There are no agents of other countries who are leaders of political parties," said Kukan. VG

SLOVAK BROADCASTING COUNCIL FINES TV MARKIZA

The Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting on 4 April fined the private television station TV Markiza 2 million crowns ($49,000) for broadcasting an interview with rock musician Richard Mueller during which he said drugs inspire him, Slovak media reported. Mueller had also said he has used marijuana and cocaine. Police have charged Mueller with the promotion of drugs. If found guilty, he could face up to eight years in prison. VG

HUNGARIAN CABINET COMPLAINS OF BBC DISTORTION

The government's National Image Center has sent letter to the board of the BBC World Television a complaining about the "distorted" picture of Hungary presented in a recent BBC documentary, the daily "Nepszabadsag" reports on 5 April. The letter says it is "regrettable" that the 17 March documentary, on the spread of global organized crime was based on errors. The film charged that the professional standards, moral levels. and salaries of Hungarian police are low and claimed that there is a "tidal wave" of corruption and organized crime in Hungary. The letter said the film was based on events that took place from 1994-1997 but were presented as current. And it concluded that the least "excusable error " was that Hungary's 1999 budget was put at $400 million, while the correct figure is $14.6 billion. MSZ




SERBIAN OFFICERS REVEAL 'SICKENING ATROCITIES' IN KOSOVA

A new internal Yugoslav army report details numerous Serbian officers' revulsion at the atrocities they saw fellow Serbs commit against defenseless Albanian civilians in Kosova in 1999, London's "The Independent" reported on 5 April. One commander of a tank unit said that "for the entire time I was in [Kosova], I never saw a single enemy soldier, and my unit was never involved in firing at military targets." He added that "tanks, which cost $2.5 million each, were used to slaughter Albanian children. I am ashamed," the British daily added. A second officer described how he watched with his "own eyes as a reservist lined up 30 Albanian women and children..., crouched down behind an anti-aircraft machine-gun, and pulled the trigger. The half-inch bullets just tore the bodies apart," he said. The army compiled the study in January and February to "gauge morale against the backdrop of growing tension between Serbia and Montenegro." Most officers were "appalled" at the prospect of a conflict with Montenegro and were "traumatized" by what they saw in Kosova, the daily added. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY REJECTS SPECIAL LINKS TO MONTENEGRO

The army said in a statement in Belgrade on 4 April that it communicates directly with civilian authorities and does not need any go-betweens, "Danas" reported. The statement added that three former generals whom the Montenegrin government has hired as advisers were fired from the military because they "lost the trust" of the army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). PM

ROBERTSON SAYS KOSOVA MISSION ON 'RAZOR'S EDGE'

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Washington on 4 April that the alliance's mission in Kosova is "still on that razor's edge between success...or failure--failure of political will, a failure to put in the right resources. We have to succeed for a whole series of reasons, but most of all because we want to create a model...for what the international community can do in stopping evil and rebuilding a healthy, [multi-]ethnic, [and] democratic society," AP reported. PM

KOSOVA VILLAGES QUIET AFTER CLASH

Several Serbian-inhabited villages in the Sara National Park area on the Kosova-Macedonian border were quiet on 5 April after a clash between some 150 local Serbian civilians and KFOR troops the previous day, Reuters reported. The clash involved "shoving, clubs, dogs, and rubber bullets," AP added. The confrontation began when peacekeepers tried to confiscate illegally-held grenades from a Serbian home and arrested one Serb. The man subsequently escaped and was not recaptured. Some 11 U.S. troops, one Polish soldier, an interpreter, and up to 14 Serbian civilians sustained light injuries. PM

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST ALLEGED SERBIAN WAR CRIMINAL

Police in Sisak arrested Nebojsa Jelic on 4 April after he returned from Serbia. The ethnic Serb is wanted for allegedly "maltreating and torturing" 16 Croatian policemen and a civilian in Glina in 1991, AP reported. Jelic, who belonged to a paramilitary unit during the Krajina Serb uprising, confessed his crimes to police. He added that he felt he would be better off "in a Croatian prison than living as a free man in Serbia," the news agency added. PM

DEL PONTE SEEKS EVIDENCE IN CROATIA

The Hague- based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, arrived in Zagreb on 4 April from Slovenia. She met with President Stipe Mesic and is slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic on 5 April. Her main goal is to obtain key documents regarding the Croatian offensives in Krajina in 1995 and their aftermath. Mesic said that Croatia wants to cooperate with the tribunal because the government knows that the country can be absolved of collective guilt for war crimes only by establishing the guilt of specific individuals, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Government spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny reports that Del Ponte is looking for specific documents about wartime Generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak, Ivan Korade, and Mirko Norac, "Novi List" reported on 5 April. PM

IS PLAVSIC ON HAGUE'S ARREST LIST?

Several Bosnian Serb legal experts say that virtually all Bosnian Serb leaders during the 1992-1995 war have been indicted by the Hague-based tribunal, either openly or in sealed indictments. Allegedly included on the list is former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who has long broken with the hard-liners, "Vesti" reported on 5 April. The newspaper also notes that NATO recently refused to guarantee the safety of General Manojlo Milovanovic, who consequently refused to go on a planned trip to Brussels. PM

PETRITSCH CALLS FOR 'CHANGE' IN BOSNIAN VOTE

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in a statement in Sarajevo on 4 April that he hopes voters will choose "change" when they cast their ballots in local elections on 8 April. He specifically urged voters to consider voting for "open lists" instead of traditional one-party slates, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The international community's representatives in Bosnia want to break the 10-year grip of nationalist parties on the electorate. The nationalists, for their part, have accused the foreigners of interfering in the electoral process. In addition, Petritsch warned that Bosnia may soon face a deep "economic crisis" unless its legislators quickly introduce key reforms and work seriously to fight corruption, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

SERBIA BANS CORRESPONDENT

The Serbian authorities on 4 April banned Carlotta Gall, who is a correspondent for the "New York Times," from visiting Serbia for one year. Gall's visa had long expired. The ban also applies to Edward Testa, who is a photographer working for the same daily, AP reported. In New York, Gall's editor Andrew Rosenthal said that his newspaper has asked the Serbian authorities to "look into this." PM

LARGEST MACEDONIAN BANK SOLD

The National Bank of Greece, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the International Financing Cooperation bought some 65 percent of the shares of Stopanska Banka for $46.5 million on 4 April. Some 80 percent of the foreign-held assets belong to the National Bank of Greece. PM

ALBANIAN FORMALLY ENDS DEATH PENALTY

Prime Minister Ilir Meta signed documents at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 4 April confirming that his country has abolished capital punishment, "Die Presse" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). PM

ITALY, ALBANIA AGREE ON MIGRANT LABOR

The Italian Embassy in Tirana said in a statement on 4 April that Italy has agreed to accept 6,000 seasonal workers in an effort to halt illegal immigration. To apply for a visa, the workers need only an invitation from relatives already working legally in Italy, dpa reported. Previously, legal migrants had to find a job in Italy before applying for a visa. Tirana and Rome want to end the lucrative traffic in illegal immigrants from Albania to Italy. In related news, the Albanian Foreign Ministry on 5 April issued a statement appealing to Greece not to shoot at ships carrying illegal immigrants. The previous day, Greek patrol boats allegedly fired at a high-speed boat carrying illegal immigrants from Albania to Corfu, Reuters reported. PM

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA

Eduard Kukan and his Romanian counterpart, Petre Roman, said in Bucharest on 4 April their countries will support each other's efforts to gain membership in the EU and NATO as well as temporary seats on the UN Security Council, Rompres and TASR reported. Roman invited Slovakia to participate in the construction of the new seaport Constanta-South and accepted Slovakia's offer to take part in building a second bridge across the River Danube. Meanwhile, in Bratislava, Slovak Environment Minister Laszlo Miklos said his country will seek compensation from Bucharest for damage caused by two recent incidents of pollution on the Tisza River. Miklos said Bratislava will coordinate its efforts to obtain compensation with other countries in the region. VG

MULTICULTURAL UNIVERSITY IN ROMANIA GIVEN 'GREEN LIGHT'

Overturning a decision by the Bucharest Appeals Court, the Supreme Court on 4 April paved the way for the setting up of the Petofi-Schiller "multicultural" university, Mediafax reported. The government had appealed the lower court's decision, which had ruled at the request of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Party of Romanian National Unity that the institution was "illegal." The government had decided on 30 September 1998 to establish the university. The decision of the Supreme Court is final and cannot be appealed. MS

ROMANIAN COURT APPROVES ROYAL RESTITUTION

A court in Arad has approved former King Michael's request that the Savarsin castle in Transylvania be restituted to him, Romanian Radio reported on 4 April. The castle is, in fact, a large hunting lodge. MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA TO SUBMIT TIMETABLE FOR TROOP WITHDRAWAL

Moldovan Foreign Ministry official Ion Stavila said on 4 April that Russia has promised to submit a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from the breakaway region of Transdniester by the end of April, BASA-press and Infotag reported. He said Moldovan and Russian negotiators agreed to this during talks in Chisinau last weekend. VG

BULGARIA AGAIN REJECTS UN REPORT

Bulgaria on 4 April again rejected a recent UN report saying the country violated international sanctions against the sale of arms to Angola's UNITA rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000), an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Bulgarian mission at the UN has sent a letter to the UN Security Council describing the report as a "distortion and misinterpretation" of the facts. The UN Security Council is expected to consider a resolution based on the report in about two weeks. VG

BULGARIAN LEFTIST PARTIES TO COOPERATE

The Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Euro-Left have agreed to cooperate in Bulgaria's next parliamentary elections, Bulgarian Radio reported on 4 April. Meanwhile, the Green Party has announced that it will leave the Alliance for National Salvation to form a new parliamentary group. VG




TURN OF THE SCREWS


by Julie A. Corwin

As Russia and the rest of the world waits for President-elect Vladimir Putin to make some decisive policy moves, leaders in Russia's far-flung regions already know what to expect. During his three months as acting president, Putin initiated changes in how Moscow manages its relations with the periphery. And in a marked contrast to how he began his tenure at the helm of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Putin is making no assurances that a major overhaul will not occur.

Consider Putin's words at his first press conference when he took over as director of the FSB in 1998. He promised that "there will practically be no new approaches to work with the regions." He declared that control in the regions "will be strengthened but no extra tightening of the screws (zakruchivaniye gaek) will take place." Before his FSB assignment, Putin headed the Kremlin's Control Department, where, among other things, he uncovered 9,000 cases in which federal money totaling some 3 trillion rubles ($104 billion at the current exchange rate) had been spent by the regions for purposes other than those intended. Putin's rise to power made regional leaders understandably nervous.

Now, as then, regional leaders' anxiety is almost palpable. Governors of all political stripes moved with breakneck speed to back Putin's presidential campaign and form their own branches of the Putin-backed Unity movement. Some even suggested that the presidential term be lengthened and the federation reformed into a smaller number of more manageable units. But rather than reassuring the fretful regional poo-bahs, this time Putin started promising change from the very beginning.

Less than a month after taking over from former President Boris Yeltsin, Putin called for declaring a war against the "legal chaos" existing in regions where local laws often conflict with federal legislation. Later, he spoke about the need to place "all subjects of the Russian Federation in the same economic conditions vis-a-vis the federal center," noting that "several subjects have certain privileges that others do not." So far, Putin's only concession to maintaining the status quo was rejection of the idea of appointing--rather than electing--governors, as some regional heads had suggested. The president-elect noted that the Russian population has "gotten used to its right to influence who will be its leader."

But more important than Putin's words have been his actions and that of his government. One month after his appointment as acting president, Putin dismissed more than 20 presidential representatives to Russian regions, replacing them with his own appointees. In the weeks that followed, the Justice Ministry announced the formation of a commission to check the compliance of regional laws with federal legislation; the Interior Ministry reorganized its structure, subordinating all of its regional criminal police units to Moscow headquarters; the Finance Ministry announced stricter controls over regional finances; and the Tax Ministry announced expansion of its project to maximize information about the regions' tax-paying capabilities. And only last week, German Gref, the head of the Center for Strategic Research, the think tank charged with drafting Putin's economic program, told reporters that the relationship between the federal government and regional governors will be revised.

What all these diverse policies have in common is a tightening of control by the center over the regions. And it may be reasonable to assume that in the future Putin will seek to maximize control by supporting those regional heads who not only express loyalty but can themselves control outcomes on their territories and deliver on their promises to the center. Those leaders who did not get the vote out for Putin in presidential elections may find themselves in a vulnerable position vis-a-vis Moscow. One example might be Primorskii Krai, where Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko was one of the first governors to support Unity. There, Putin barely scraped a victory with some 40.08 percent of the vote, compared with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's 36.36 percent. Similarly, in Buryatia, Putin also performed poorly next to Zyuganov, 41.96 percent versus 40.53 percent. This occurred. despite the fact that three deputy prime ministers in the republic's government took three- month vacations so that they could head the local election headquarters for Putin.

Since Putin has rejected the notion of appointing governors, he may have to rely on less obvious means of controlling regional leaders. "Vedomosti" suggested last month that new legal measures being introduced to tighten federal control over regional finances may make regional leaders "docile" without the necessity of more overt administrative measures. After all, only a handful of Russia's 89 regions contribute more in revenue to the center than they get in return. But previous attempts at recentralizing Russia have generally failed--stymied in part by the sheer size of the federation. Putin may have one advantage that his predecessors since Stalin lacked: fear.

Putin's conduct of policy in Chechnya and in the presidential elections suggests he has a tendency toward "overkill" and is uncomfortable leaving anything to chance. In 1998, when Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov challenged the then weak Yeltsin leadership by announcing that his republic considered itself outside of the federation and would no longer transfer its federal taxes, Moscow responded harshly, dismissing its federal treasury official there and suspending all aid. What is the likelihood that Ilyumzhinov or one of his peers will risk making even a less dramatic statement and discovering President Putin's reaction?


XS
SM
MD
LG